This blog is a way of sharing the information and resources that have helped me to recover my son Roo from an Autism Spectrum Disorder. What I have learned is to view our symptoms as the results of underlying biological cause, which can be identified and healed. I say "our symptoms" because I also have a neuro-immune disorder called Myalgic Encephalomyelitis.

And, of course, I am not a doctor (although I have been known to impersonate one while doing imaginative play with my son)- this is just our story and information that has been helpful or interesting to us. I hope it is helpful and interesting to you!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Brain Food

I did an earlier post about the healing power of foods, a topic of endless fascination for me, but in particular the effects of our diet on our brain and mental/cognitive function is of particular interest to me right now.  This interest is what brought me to the GAPS (Gut and Psychology Syndrome) Diet two years ago and the healing that I witnessed in my whole family has reinforced the significance of diet for the health of the "mind".  I will do a full post about GAPS soon, but for now I will say that there were three parts to it's healing power for the brain.  First, we removed things that we were eating that were disrupting mental function, such as sugar and various elements of processed foods.  We also removed foods that were feeding the bad flora, which would use that food to churn out neurotoxins, and third we included foods that have components that nourish the Central Nervous System such as saturated fats and amino acids.

Recently, a new post on one of my favorite blogs- Nourished Kitchen- caught my eye.  The post is about the blogger's husband's recovery from Bipolar Disorder thanks partly to the power of eating foods that nourish the body and brain and support healing.   There aren't many details of specific foods that were included, but I wanted to include this post here because I feel that it is important to hear real stories of real people regaining their health. It is great to read the science, but sometimes it is also important to put a human face on top of all of the abstractions.  The blogger says that she is telling this story, despite how hard it is to bare one's private life so publicly, because she feels these stories need to be told.  That same sentiment is what drives my writing of this blog- to spread the word that healing (whether in part or in whole) is possible.

A study published in the journal Nature Reviews Neuroscience looked at more than 160 studies of the effects of food on the brain.  Here is the abstract of the study:

It has long been suspected that the relative abundance of specific nutrients can affect cognitive processes and emotions. Newly described influences of dietary factors on neuronal function and synaptic plasticity have revealed some of the vital mechanisms that are responsible for the action of diet on brain health and mental function. Several gut hormones that can enter the brain, or that are produced in the brain itself, influence cognitive ability. In addition, well-established regulators of synaptic plasticity, such as brain-derived neurotrophic factor, can function as metabolic modulators, responding to peripheral signals such as food intake. Understanding the molecular basis of the effects of food on cognition will help us to determine how best to manipulate diet in order to increase the resistance of neurons to insults and promote mental fitness.

Recently an article appeared in the UCLA Newsroom newsletter about this study and its author, Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, who had this to say "Food is like a pharmaceutical compound that affects the brain...(d)iet, exercise and sleep have the potential to alter our brain health and mental function. This raises the exciting possibility that changes in diet are a viable strategy for enhancing cognitive abilities, protecting the brain from damage and counteracting the effects of aging."  This article focuses mostly on findings relating to omega-3 fatty acids, but also includes some other interesting findings as well.  Here are some highlights from the article:

"Omega-3 fatty acids support synaptic plasticity and seem to positively affect the expression of several molecules related to learning and memory that are found on synapses...(o)mega-3 fatty acids are essential for normal brain function."

 "Dietary deficiency of omega-3 fatty acids in humans has been associated with increased risk of several mental disorders, including attention-deficit disorder, dyslexia, dementia, depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia,"

"Scientists are learning which omega-3 fatty acids seem to be especially important. One is docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, which is abundant in salmon. DHA, which reduces oxidative stress and enhances synaptic plasticity and learning and memory, is the most abundant omega-3 fatty acid in cell membranes in the brain."

"Recent research also supports the hypothesis that health can be passed down through generations, and a number of innovative studies point to the possibility that the effects of diet on mental health can be transmitted across generations"

"Evidence indicates that what you eat can affect your grandchildren's brain molecules and synapses...(w)e are trying to find the molecular basis to explain this."

"Controlled meal-skipping or intermittent caloric restriction might provide health benefits.  Excess calories can reduce the flexibility of synapses and increase the vulnerability of cells to damage by causing the formation of free radicals. Moderate caloric restriction could protect the brain by reducing oxidative damage to cellular proteins, lipids and nucleic acids"  (note that this is referring to something intermittent, NOT calorie restriction on a daily basis).

"Adequate levels of folic acid are essential for brain function, and folate deficiency can lead to neurological disorders such as depression and cognitive impairment. Folate supplementation, either by itself or in conjunction with other B vitamins, has been shown to be effective in preventing cognitive decline and dementia during aging and enhancing the effects of antidepressants. The results of a recent randomized clinical trial indicate that a three-year folic acid supplementation can help reduce the age-related decline in cognitive function."